Yesterday my husband and I had the opportunity to baby-sit for the most adorable twenty-month-old twins. It’s been a while since I’ve spent time with children this age, since most of the kids in my Sunday school class are over the age of three. These children were so excited by everything they saw, whether it was a truck, dog, bird or simply another person their height. Each dog or truck was just as exciting as the last, making them shout “Wow!” every time a van drove past the play park. It was fascinating to see the world through the eyes of a toddler and witness their joy over everyday items or occurrences that adults barely notice.
I don’t think I’m going to start shouting “Wow!” every time a bin lorry drives down my street, but I think there’s a lot to be learnt from another person’s perspective. Today, a toddler taught me to appreciate the people who empty my bins, and I found myself pausing to look at wildlife and birds a lot more on our walk back from the park.
You don’t necessarily have to give yourself entirely over to someone’s system of belief in order to gain something from their perspective. I love reading Amish fiction because it reminds me to slow down and focus on the simpler things in life. I love the way that the Amish hold family as the highest priority (next to God) since this isn’t something we see a lot of nowadays. It’s something that speaks a lot to me, since my husband and I believe that our relationship and our future children should always be more important than our careers, even if it means sacrificing promotions or a higher salary.
However, I don’t agree with the Amish practice of “shunning” members of a community, especially when the shunning only ends when the person makes a public confession for their sins. I don’t need to hear the details of someone’s sin in order to forgive them or help them, so this just doesn’t seem right to me. Likewise, I’m not a fan of the way that labour and chores are split among the Amish, with women always doing the cooking and cleaning, and men always doing the heavy labour—not to mention male-only preaching. I might love to bake and do laundry, but where does this leave the woman whose skills lie in woodwork or giving sermons?
But the fact that the Amish rely heavily on gender constructs to split their labour doesn’t mean that I can’t still learn something from their lifestyle. If I ever met an Amish woman, I’d hope she could overlook my jewellery and tight-fitting clothes and be able to bond over our common interests, rather than focusing on those aspects of our lives which are different.
This is something I’ve had to realise this past year, particularly with regards to my increasing involvement in feminism. I think I’ve probably always been a feminist, but I didn’t start using the label to describe myself until recently. I held back because I didn’t agree with some of the things people did in the name of feminism, particularly groups like FEMEN. It took me a while to realise that I could call myself a feminist without agreeing with every individual feminist act or organisation.
I’ve met some wonderful men and women in the Christian community who want to promote equality and make more people aware of the prevalence of issues like domestic abuse and rape, and promote ways in which to protect women from dangerous situations. But even in this community, I come across feminists who support viewpoints that I don’t agree with—whether have different views on abortion, or have a more extreme stance on modesty. Even so, I’m still grateful for the viewpoints that have introduced me to, and the ways in which they have enlightened my thinking.
Sometimes I think that we’re under the illusion that we need to agree with everything another person believes in order to call them our friend, but this way of thinking is ultimately going to leave us rather lonely. Sometimes having one small point to connect on can be all we need to forge a new friendship, which can be especially important when we’re heading off to a new adventure—moving house, starting a new career or hobby, or entering a new university. I’ve made a lot of unexpected friendships at university, and even if I haven’t always agreed with some friends’ actions of points of view on certain subjects, I’d like to think that each person I’ve stayed friends with over these past four years has enriched my life in some way. Sometimes it takes someone from a different culture or walk of life to help us to see past the hurdles in our own life that seem impossible to get past.
As we prepare to move to Edinburgh in a couple of weeks, I hope that we can approach new experiences and friendships with the same excitement as the toddlers we babysat—with excitement and appreciation.